FRESNO, Calif. – Rodney Terry would love to have Craig Neal’s headaches.
While the first-year New Mexico head coach is dealing with high expectations from a fan base that has shown some uneasiness about a 12-4 overall record and a 3-1 start in Mountain West play, Terry, the third year coach at Fresno State is continuing his grind toward rebuilding the once proud West Coast program into a league power of his own.
Terry said any grumbling about the Lobos’ record is a tough pill for him to swallow based on the talent he sees on film and the schedule the Lobos have faced.
“I have a hard time with that; for one, because they’ve played about as good a schedule as anyone in the country,” Terry said. “It’s on par with anyone in the country in terms of playing against different styles of play. There’s not anything that’s going to catch them off guard. That’s what playing a competitive schedule does for you. They could have went out and played a cream puff schedule and you’re sitting there with a nice cushy record, but you haven’t gotten any better.
“Look at the big picture and it’s not all about what you’re doing now. It’s what you’re doing at the end of the day. And I think playing the nonconference schedule as competitive as they played will not only help them in conference play, but will help them in postseason play (after the Mountain West Conference tournament), as well.”
The Bulldogs (8-10, 1-4), meanwhile, have played a tough schedule of their own, so far, and have opened up Mountain West play with arguably as tough an opening six games as possible. The Bulldogs lost to UNLV at home Jan. 1 and have lost road games at Boise State, Colorado State and San Diego State, all in their first five games leading up to today’s home matchup with the two-time defending league champion.
“Yeah, we’ve played some people, too,” Terry said with a laugh. “And while it’s about getting your team better each time out, we also know at the end of the day it’s really about those wins and losses. So, that’s what we’re working on now.”
Neal says he can tell Fresno State is a young team that isn’t far from turning a corner.
“They’ve got some talented guys,” Neal said, before reminding anyone listening that the Lobos last season trailed Fresno State by 16 at halftime in the Save Mart Center before clawing back for a win.
“Anytime you go on the road in this league, it’s going to be tough.”
Fresno State gave league-leading No. 10 San Diego State all it could handle in San Diego on Wednesday night in a 68-60 scrappy Aztecs win. The Bulldogs did the same at another league title hopeful, Boise State, on Jan. 4 before losing late, 86-79.
The consensus seems to be that despite the 1-4 league record, the Bulldogs are close to being the program Terry envisioned when he was hired before the 2011-12 season after a successful stint as an assistant at Texas.
“You’ve got to have a staple for what you want to stand for and who you want to be,” Terry said. “We made it clear we wanted to be a better offensive team than what we’ve been since I’ve been here. … But you also have to have the personnel in place to do what you want to do. I think there’s a balance.”
Fresno State’s scoring is up 13.4 points per game this season (73.3 points compared to 59.9 a season ago). Three guards – Marvelle Harris (15.4), Tyler Johnson (15.2) and Cezar Guerrero (14.0) – score 60.8 percent of the team’s points. A pair of freshmen – Paul Watson and highly regarded recruit Karachi Edo – are starting to come along in the frontcourt.
“I think we’ve gotten better and I think we’re still getting better,” Terry said. “But New Mexico, they have that experience we want. We know we have our hands full again with an experienced team that understands winning in this league.”